Vanderbilt Basketball: Are the Commodores Primed for Another Mid-Major Upset?

Chad MintonCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 11: John Jenkins #23 and Festus Ezeli #3 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrate during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Memorial Gymnasium on February 11, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-63. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

All signs point to the Vanderbilt Commodores making their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season and 13th in school history.

As impressive as that may be, there's still a collective belief that the Commodores will choke once again in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Commodores have been unable to get past their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament since their Sweet Sixteen run in 2007, with Richmond being the latest mid-major to upset the Commodores.

This season has a large group of mid-majors that are capable of making noise in this year's NCAA Tournament, and it's very likely that a rematch with Murray State could be on its way.

Murray State upset the Commodores on a last-second shot in 2010, and this season the Racers are gaining much more national attention as they have just one loss in 27 games.

The real question is whether or not the Commodores are ready to shed the reputation of being a team that flourishes in the regular season but crumbles to the first opponent they face in the postseason.

Players like Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins are ready to shed that image for the Commodores. The team has actually done a good job defeating some solid mid-majors this season.

It's very likely that the Commodores will face a very tough mid-major yet again this season in their first NCAA Tournament matchup.

Sure enough, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has the Commodores facing Harvard as a No. 7 seed in the Louisville region.

Lunardi is usually spot-on with his predictions, and Harvard would definitely present the Commodores with a decent opportunity at shedding the image of being a one-and-done team in the NCAA Tournament.

They went into Davidson and beat them on their home court back in December and did it in convincing fashion.

Mid-majors like Bucknell and Middle Tennessee State have fallen to the Commodores this season, but both Indiana State and Cleveland State took the Commodores down in Nashville.

It would seem that it's very likely that the Commodores could end up suffering another early letdown in the NCAA Tournament, but something is different about this team.

If the Commodores are going to get over the hump, regardless of who they face, they're going to have to have Taylor live up to the hype.

Last season against Richmond, Taylor had just four points and one field goal, and still the Commodores just lost by three points.

Just two seasons ago, the Commodores lost on a buzzer-beater to Murray State, and yet again Taylor was a non-factor despite averaging over 13 points per game as a sophomore.

Jenkins is also very important in whether or not the Commodores can end this losing streak to mid-majors, but Jenkins always seems to play well on any given night. The problem is that far too many times it hasn't guaranteed a win.

In all but one of Vanderbilt's losses, Jenkins has scored at least 15 points. He's also drained at least three three-pointers in six of Vanderbilt's eight losses.

The moral to this story is that Taylor is the x-factor for how far the Commodores can go.

Taylor is talented enough to take the Commodores well past that opening matchup with a possible mid-major if he remains aggressive.